Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ca'D'Zan: The Greatest Show on Earth

I mentioned in my last post that John Ringling lived large and Ca'D'Zan, his Venetian Gothic palace, lived up to his slogan for the circus: "The Greatest show on earth." It is an imposing landmark in the Sarasota area.

I say that because it is a monument to all the excesses of the Gilded Age where several families made huge fortunes and then spent a considerable amount of time acquiring things to show off their wealth. As usual, click each photo for a better view.

Ringling took this approach to a new level and the term excess does not begin to describe the size of the mansion and the grounds surrounding it. This aerial shot of it from the 1930's gives a view of the amount of land that was a part of the grounds.

Every inch inside and out is literally covered with very expensive tiles, stained glass, or very dramatic paintings. Notice the ceiling on a balcony (right) near the front of the house...

or the stain glass facade that faces the dock to the mansion...

and the gilding around Ringling's desk in an office complete with a Japanese gong.

It is as if John and Mable Ringling thought that more was better in the race to out-shine all the other millionaires and every room is stuffed to overflowing with every expensive item one could imagine. The Living Room is a perfect example of a room being almost crowded with expensive things...

and then your eyes move upward to the second floor. There is opulence on top of opulence.

Make a 180 degree turn and there is the inside view from those stain glass windows facing the dock a few pictures above.

Take a few more steps and the ceiling in another portion of the Living Room again overwhelms you.

The Dining Room is more of this overwhelming opulence.

It is almost ironic that the only room that is not overwhelming to the eye is the bar. You know that the items in the room are expensive, and yet the decor is tasteful and seems pleasantly calm in relation to the rest of the mansion.

And then, the final irony. For a man who had such wealth during the 1920's, the 1930's were not kind. The stock market crash and the following depression wiped Ringling out. He was removed as the head of the circus corporation, his wife Mable who helped him acquire so many of the things shown in the house, died in 1929. The mansion was the only asset he retained. The man who once was one of the wealthiest men in America died with only $311 in his bank account and he willed the mansion to the State of Florida. It was as if a cruel joke had been played on Ringling and the mansion now stands as a glimpse of the excesses of the roaring 20's.


  1. Wow, thank u for this!. I never knew.. Eccentric indeed.. btw, I think I went to just one Ringling Bros. Circus when I was a kid... This may sound terrible, but I feel circuses are cruel- to the animals that is... My kids never went to a circus, not because of my feelings, they never expressed and interest and weren't an interest of mine or my husband's...As far as Mr. Ringling, such a sad ending and legacy.

  2. Chrissy,
    I included a bird's eye view of the mansion to give an idea of just how dominant the mansion is to the area of Sarasota. John Ringling offers a cautionary tale for today of excess and decline. But, like it or not the Ringling Brothers Circus was a major form of entertainment for their time and the logistics of moving it was a marvel of organization.

  3. Oh, if I would be there, I would feel like home.... ;-D

    Ha ha, it's a joke, my home don't look like that, of course :-/

    Thanks for this new interesting post, Cherrie. A very big hug for you.

  4. Guess he lived in the Palace as if a King...but I prefer the Cabin.....Merry Christmas...

  5. Nomore,
    Good to hear from you again! Yes, he did live as if he was a king but once you see it all in person, you get the sense that it was all "too much" and when the bubble burst he realized to late that it was...